We had pretty nice weather for the Tolstoy Windchiller this year, but I still didn’t win. And my legs were pretty sore for a while afterwards because I hadn’t gone on many runs lately this winter. After last year’s race, I wasn’t nearly as sore because I had gone on a few longer runs during the week leading up to the race. You’d think I’d eventually learn my lesson from past experience, but it’s easier to be sore than it is to be consistent.
The importance of warming up and practice reminds me of another season that’s part of the Church’s traditional calendar. From at least the 8th century in many places, this Sunday—the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday—was known as Septuagesima Sunday. The name comes from the Latin word for 70, being about 70 days from the Octave of Easter, even as the Latin word for Lent, Quadragesima, is named for 40 days. Septuagesima Sunday served as the start of a sort of warm-up period in preparation for Lent.
This Pre-Lent is observed in various ways. It’s a great opportunity to begin considering what we plan to give up or to do as extra prayer, fasting, and almsgiving when we reach Ash Wednesday—now less than 3 weeks away—instead of scrambling to decide only a few days or hours before. You might even try out some of your penances in advance, to ease yourself into it. On the other hand, perhaps more common is to observe the next few weeks as the season of carnival, culminating with Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday.” Anticipating the long days of penance that Lent would bring, people made sure to get their feasting in beforehand, also an occasion in many places for parades, dancing, and music.
However we decide to spend these final weeks before Lent, it goes quickly. Don’t let Ash Wednesday catch you off guard this year. Spend some time in prayer, really asking God what He would like you to do, so that you and our parishes and the Catholic Church throughout our diocese and the world can experience a real renewal this year, as we look forward to the matchless gift of our salvation, the victory of Life over death, the Resurrection of Jesus, our Easter Joy. Renewal in the Church and in our state and country begins with your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Prognosticator of Prognosticators
You’re no doubt familiar with Groundhog Day on February 2. If the groundhog comes out and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, otherwise, an early spring. What you may not realize is that this actually has roots in a much older Christian tradition. At least since the 4th century in Jerusalem, Christians have celebrated Candlemas on February 2, forty days after Christmas. St. Luke reports that in accordance with Jewish law, St. Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to Jerusalem forty days after his birth, to present Him in the Temple and to offer a pair of turtledoves or pigeons for Mary’s purification.
Over the centuries, as more and more of Europe became Christian, February 2 and Candlemas—being close to the midpoint between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox (the first day of spring)—soon became associated with many mid-winter festivities. A common mid-winter practice was to try and predict how mild or harsh the rest of the season’s weather would be. Eventually, these predictions became standardized and repeated as short poems. The one that comes down to us in English goes like this:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.
I remember something similar being said about the month of March, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” or vise versa: that if it starts mild, it will end harshly. A lot of these folk sayings don’t exactly come true, or they’re vague enough to fit lots of different weather, but they give people something to do or even look forward to. Groundhog Day, then, was started by German immigrants in Pennsylvania in 1887, reminiscent of the Candlemas traditions they brought with them from Europe to the United States.
The name Candlemas comes from the custom of lighting and blessing candles in celebration of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, when the old man St. Simeon takes the Infant Jesus in his arms and calls Him “a Light for revelation to the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” If you have any candles you want blessed, bring them by this week. We’ll be sure bless throats as well—through the intercession of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr—as we hope for an early spring.
In the Line of Melchizedek
In these first weeks after Epiphany, on weekdays we’ve had readings from the Letter to the Hebrews. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it is basically a transcript of an early Christian homily given by St. Paul or someone of similar rhetorical skill to answer the question of how Jesus can be a high priest, even though He was reckoned a Son of David, of the tribe of Judah, rather than being a son of Aaron of the Levites, the tribe associated with the Jewish priesthood.
Hebrews is probably the most explicit and systematic treatment of the priesthood of Christ and of certain liturgical elements of Christian worship, although the Gospel, other New Testament epistles, and the Book of Revelation address these topics as well, to a lesser extent. Another concern of the author of Hebrews is to show that Christian worship is in no way inferior but in every way superior to the Jewish worship that preceded it, which was merely “a shadow of the things to come” (Col. 2:17). This was at a time when the ceremonies carried out in the grand Jerusalem Temple—with its animal sacrifices, priestly vestments, and strict precepts—looked much more impressive (from an earthly standpoint) than those early celebrations of the Eucharist, often carried out in one of their homes.
A central figure to the argument in Hebrews is the mysterious Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He shows up for three verses in the Book of Genesis to bring out bread and wine and to bless Abraham after his victory over five kings of Canaan to rescue his nephew Lot and their possessions. Hebrews takes for granted that his blessing Abraham and receiving tithes (a tenth of the spoils of victory) means that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and by extension greater than Levi and Aaron, descendants of Abraham. Melchizedek and his priesthood is mentioned again in Psalm 110, which was probably used for the coronation of the sons of David and was understood to speak of the Messiah as well.
As kings of Jerusalem, the sons of David were perhaps seen as successors to Melchizedek, king of Salem (which was likely a precursor to the same city of a lengthened name) and so also sharers in Melchizedek’s priesthood. With no beginning of days or end of life recounted in Scripture, Melchizedek images the eternity of Christ, the Son of God, having “a life that cannot be destroyed” (Heb. 7:16). With his offering of bread and wine and king of Salem being translated as “king of peace,” the parallels continue to grow. May Christ, our eternal High Priest, faithful and compassionate, bring us one day with His Saints to share in His heavenly glory.
Maps & Merry Mary Melodies
This week, I’ll be headed to another diocesan clergy meeting, this time in Brookings. I plan to leave on Wednesday and return Friday. I’m told that the maps and groupings of the new pastorates will be finalized and released shortly afterward. Please continue to pray for God’s will to be accomplished through this Set Ablaze process.
We’ve returned to Ordinary Time and green vestments, but I usually point out that there’s still one more Christmas mystery celebrated on February 2 at Candlemas, the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, 40 days after His birth. It’s nice to have a few more weeks to view the Nativity scene. Connected with that date are the Marian antiphons typically sung at the end of Compline each night, which I often use at one of the Masses during the week as well. These antiphons have been around since the 13th century or even earlier.
Probably the most familiar is the one used during the Time after Pentecost: the Hail Holy Queen (Salve Regina), which concludes the Rosary as well. The Regina Coeli is also familiar to many, often used in place of the Angelus prayers during the Easter season. The other two are probably not as familiar to most. From the beginning of Advent until February 1, the Alma Redemptoris Mater is used, and from February 2 to the end of Lent it’s the Ave Regina Caelorum. Each is a beautiful prayer to our Blessed Mother.
Alma Redemptoris Mater in translation:
Nourishing Mother of the Redeemer,
who remain the open gate of heaven and the star of the sea,
help your falling people who strive to rise:
You who gave birth to your holy Sire while nature marveled, a Virgin before and after,
receiving that “Ave” from Gabriel’s mouth, have pity on us sinners.
Ave Regina Caelorum in translation:
Hail, Queen of the heavens, hail Lady of Angels:
Hail root, hail gate, from which Light has risen for the world:
Rejoice, glorious Virgin, splendid above all:
Farewell, O exceedingly elegant one, and beseech Christ for us.
God in Man Made Manifest
A number of years ago, I first came across the custom of blessing chalk on the Solemnity of the Epiphany. I had never seen or heard of it in my first decade of life. For those not familiar, the custom is for each family to gather at the entrance of their home and pray for God’s blessings upon them and upon all who enter under their roof during the new year. The head of the household takes chalk blessed on the Day of Epiphany and writes on the lintel over the main entrance to the house and perhaps over other entrances or doorways, “2 0 + C + M + B + 2 3” while pronouncing (if possible) in his best Latin, “Christus Mansiónem Benedícat,” meaning, “May Christ bless the house.” The letters “CMB” also stand for the traditional names of the three wise men: Sts. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The digits at each end are for the current year.
In many Eastern churches, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated with even more festivity than Christmas. The Epiphany, from the Greek word for “unveiling, revelation, manifestation,” recalls the visit of the three magi and the first revelation of the Christ Child to non-Jewish nations, whom the magi represent. Many Christians still exchange gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany since that’s when the magi brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Besides the visit of the magi, there are two other moments from the life of Jesus connected to this Great Feast: the Baptism of the Lord and the Wedding Feast at Cana. Jesus being baptized by John in the River Jordan is often considered the first clear revelation of God as a Trinity of Persons: the Father manifested in the voice from heaven, the Son Jesus standing in the river, and the Holy Spirit descending upon Him bodily like a dove. Unlike most other baptisms where the water is used by God to make the one being baptized holy, when Jesus was baptized, He actually made the waters holy. Some Christians still practice the Epiphany tradition of taking a dip in a freezing lake to recall the Lord’s Baptism and one’s own baptism. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying it around here.
The changing of water into wine at Cana is regarded as Christ’s first public miracle, the manifestation of His divine power. By the grace of the Lord’s Epiphany, may we always make Christ more manifest, better known throughout the world by our own words and actions.
Top 10 of 2022
Not sure if I’ll get individual thank-yous written this time, but please know of my gratitude to you for all the great Christmas cards, gifts, and prayers. As we reach the end of the year and the start of another, it’s important to also give thanks to God for His countless blessings. I hope this has been a blessed and memorable year for all of you, even if there have been trials. Here are some of the highlights for me, in Fr. Schmidt’s Top 10 of ’22:
- Replacing the awning over the front door of the Hoven rectory, although it might still drip in a couple places.
- Attending a priest retreat in June at the Abbey of the Hills for the first time. It was good, although it seemed to be mostly attended by older or retired priests.
- Having an archbishop serve Mass for me. Following the Chrism Mass this year, Archbishop Thomas Gullickson let me celebrate Mass in Sioux Falls and was kind enough to serve at the altar.
- The ceiling restoration in the church in Hoven, completed much more quickly than expected. Very grateful to members of the altar society cleaning afterwards to have Mass back in the church so soon.
- Fr. Timothy Smith becoming a resident student priest in Bowdle for canon law. We had served together at the cathedral in Sioux Falls, and he knew this part of the diocese from his time in Ipswich.
- Hosting the Leaven of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (LIHM) Sisters for a Confirmation retreat and later in the year, Fr. Brian Eckrich who helped with a wedding.
- St. Augustine T-shirts for the religious education students in Bowdle. Hopefully, they’ll wear them around and continue to learn about this patron saint.
- Having Fr. Michael Griffin provide the narration at the Christmas on the Prairie concert this year along with having Governor Kristi Noem and some of her family as special guests.
- Attending the Wake of Bishop Paul J. Swain and reflecting on his many years of ministry in the diocese and as the bishop who ordained and assigned me.
- Continuing as pastor of two of the greatest parishes in the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
Keep Mass in Christmas
The other day I came across this phrase online. Of course, we are all probably familiar with the campaign to “Keep Christ in Christmas” that warns against Christmas being reduced to commercialism, economic stimulus, and empty sentimentalism, often missing the fact that the real miracle of this season is that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” God became man in Jesus Christ and changed human history for ever.
But to “keep Mass in Christmas” recalls that the main celebration of this or any other holiday (holy-day) is to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is where the suffix –mas comes from. Other examples include Candlemas on February 2, now the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, which includes a blessing of candles. Michaelmas is September 29, now the Feast of the Three Archangels. Other names for holydays that are used even less frequently include Martinmas on November 11 for St. Martin, Hallowmas on November 1 for All Saints, and Childermas on December 28 for the Holy Innocents.
The only “sacraments” or “liturgy” that seems to still be part of pop cultural observances of Christmas include gift exchanges, caroling, baking unhealthy, sugary snacks, and the ritual lighting of Christmas trees. I always found the “lighting” of the Christmas tree outside in the garden after it had dried out to be much more impressive, flames engulfing and making very short work of it. All this pales in comparison to offering the Flesh of God upon our altars and being fed by Him who is “a consuming Fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
Every Sunday is a holy day for Christians, and the main way we’re called to keep the Lord’s Day holy is by coming to Mass. If we’re too busy even for that, we’re too busy. Period. I’d hate for any of us to stand before the Lord on Judgment Day and say, “Well, lots of other Catholics and non-Catholics didn’t go every Sunday or holy day, either.” Since when has the Christian standard been reduced to what’s common or widely accepted? You know better.
Keep Mass in Christmas and on every Sunday and holy day of obligation, so that we can stand without shame in the presence of God at the end of our lives as we give an accounting, not for anyone else, but for our own conduct and how we’ve made use of what was entrusted to us by God. That we may know the joy that comes not from health, wealth, or success, but the joy that comes uniquely from God, the peace that the world cannot give nor ever take away. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours!
“Be There Tomorrow”
The second part of the season of Advent starts on December 17, when the Lectionary readings shift to a more explicit focus on the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem rather than on the return of Christ at the end of the world. December 17 is also when the O Antiphons begin, used with the Magnificat (the Gospel Canticle of Mary) at Vespers on these days, at least since the eighth century. These O Antiphons name seven Messianic titles of Jesus, expressive of the expectations of the Jewish people and indeed of all humanity. The “O” is the interjection that begins each phrase as a way of greeting and addressing Jesus.
The O Antiphons are probably best known through the popular hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which summarizes them quite well. The titles given on successive days also form what’s called an acrostic, where the initial letters spell out a word or, in this case, a phrase. The titles given in order are
Radix Iesse (Root of Jesse)
Clavis David (Key of David)
Oriens (Dawn/Rising Sun in the East)
Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles/Nations)
The Latin phrase spelled out (backwards, from bottom to top) is Ero cras, which means, “I will be there tomorrow.” With the eager expectation of an often dark and lonely world, we keep watch in these final days for the dawning of Christmas joy. Do not grow weary in hope, but know with certainty that in the Lord, we shall not be disappointed.
Time Runs, Eternity Awaits
Hard to believe we’re already reaching the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday. And though the winter solstice isn’t until Saturday, the 21st, many of us have probably had our fill of winter already. I hope your Christmas shopping is going well. Before you know it, we’ll be ringing in the new year: 2023. Reminds me that I’ll be eligible for retirement in the year 2063. Just four more decades, if any of us are still around by then, and whatever is left of our country.
With the recent death of Bishop Swain, certain memories come to mind. Before his retirement, Bishop Swain went on pilgrimage to Poland to visit many of the sites that were significant in the life of St. John Paul II. One highlight he often mentioned after his return was seeing the parish church where Karol Józef Wojtyła was baptized and where he attended Mass during his childhood in Wadowice, Poland. On the side of the church, just outside the house where he was born and lived, there is a decorative sundial that the future saint probably saw several times a day for the first eighteen years of his life. Above the sundial are painted the Polish words for, “Time is running. Eternity is waiting.”
Another common saying along the same lines in Latin is, Tempus fugit; memento mori. “Time flies. Remember death.” In Sirach 7:36, we find, “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and you will never sin.” Hopefully, we all have regular—even daily—reminders that our life on earth is temporary, not out of any excessive fascination with death but to give us a healthy perspective on life. Is what I’m doing each day really worthwhile? Are the things I worry about and stress over so often going to matter much next week, next month, next year, or in the next life? Am I becoming the person I’ll want to be when I meet Jesus face to face?
Having that reminder just outside his front door during all the years of his childhood no doubt formed St. John Paul II in the perspective that urged him to spend well the years on earth entrusted to him by God. Time is running. Eternity is waiting. How will you spend these final days of Advent, waiting with anticipation for the Coming of Christ?
This Wednesday, December 14, Friday, December 16, and Saturday, December 17, are the Winter Ember Days. Please join in offering to God some extra fasting and prayers, thanking Him for the harvest and begging him for more holy priests and religious to labor in His vineyard.
One Small Child
The theme of the 18th Christmas on the Prairie Concert: One Small Child, calls to mind both the very ordinary circumstances of our Savior’s birth and the extraordinary impact this event has had on all of human history. First, we might consider how startlingly humble are our Lord’s first breaths upon this earth that He Himself had made. Like us, He is born of a human mother, nursed at her breasts, held, kissed, and caressed in her arms. Like us, this God—upon whom everything in existence constantly depends—Himself chooses to be born in utter need and dependency. Wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, to be kept warm by the breath of ox and ass. Watched and protected by Joseph, a carpenter and son of David. We are left to marvel at why God the Almighty, who is able to do whatever He wills, would choose to enter our world so seemingly powerless and fragile as to need so much from His own creation.
At the same, we recall how very strange and extraordinary are the other aspects of His birth. That very same night, shepherds come to worship Him after seeing a vision of resplendent angels in the sky above their pastures, angels singing of glory to God and peace to men of good will. Three magi from the East come seeking the newborn King of the Jews, whose birth had been foretold. Isaiah had spoken of the Virgin conceiving and bearing a Son who would be Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” And when the magi question the authorities in Jerusalem about where the Messiah was to be born, the scholars answer readily with another prophecy from Micah: “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come forth for Me the One who is to be ruler over Israel, One whose origins are from of old, from everlasting.”
And from the birth of this One Small Child, the world would never be the same, forever changed by One so seemingly ordinary, destined to rule all the nations of the earth. The Child laid upon the wood of a manger amidst the food of beasts of burden, destined to lay His sacred arms upon the wood of a Cross, to bear our burdens and heal our wounds. To give His Flesh for the life of the world and to become our Food for the nourishment of our souls.
May this One Small Child guide you as we prepare to celebrate His Nativity and throughout your lives until we reach His eternal dwellings.